examples of lenses for portraits and their background blurring capabilities
- almost anyone with a point and shoot camera can take a portrait where everything is almost on focus, but generally, the better portraits which emphasise the face need the background to be nicely blurred and this is where your special portrait lens comes in - you really need an aperture f/2.8 or wider and a 35mm effective focal length in the 70-140mm range, and preferably a circular diaphragm for nice background blurring.
- in other words, the kit lenses supplied with most cameras are just not good enough for nice portraits with blurred backgrounds.
- background blurring is largely dependent on aperture and actual focal length, while the aesthetics is also dependent on how circular the iris diaphragm is (the Olympus ZD lenses have circular diaphragms for very nice bokeh).
- these series of images were all taken hand held and varying distances to try to keep the mannequin in a similar torso shot, all using ambient light, and primarily to demonstrate the effect of each lens on perspective (watch the amount of background visible) as well as the degree of blurring of the background and the aesthetic quality of the blurring of the background (bokeh).
- I have tried to approximately keep the mannequin as same proportion in each image taking into account the Canon has a different aspect ratio to the Olympus images which are shorter but wider.
- apologies for the mannequin I borrowed from a nursing school.
- let's have a brief look at the lenses:
- the Olympus kit lenses, whilst perhaps the best kit lenses out there in terms of optical quality, are not great portrait lenses as their apertures are restricted to only f/3.5, thus an Olympus user wanting a portrait lens should consider either:
- Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro - a very sharp macro lens
- Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 - a very versatile lens
- or, if on a budget, try a manual focus lens such as an Olympus OM 50mm f/1.4 but older style diaphragm shape will give hexagonal out-of-focus highlights, not circular.
- the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS lens, whilst very versatile, does not make a great portrait lens but is passable at 105mm f/4 which gives a similar effect to a 50mm f/3.2 lens on an Olympus, and thus the Olympus 50mm f/2.0 macro and the Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 are better portrait lenses.
- fortunately for Canon users, there are two relatively inexpensive AF solutions which give excellent portrait results:
- Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 lens - particularly if using a APS-C Canon with 1.6x crop factor
- Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 lens - particularly if using a APS-H Canon (1.3x crop) or a full frame.
- similar options are available for Nikon, Pentax and Sony users.
- for my mind though, of all these lenses, the winners for portraits are:
- if need shorter focal length for space reasons:
- Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 at f/1.8
- Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro
- Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.4 on an APS-C 1.6x crop Canon only
- if can get away with being a bit further away:
- Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L at f/2.0
- Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 at 100mm, f/3.3 or can even go to 200mm f/3.5 for a very beautiful effect
- see bottom of page for direct comparisons of each wide open.
- of course there are great other options such as:
- I have also included some wide angle shots to show the change in perspective obtained and the exaggeration of facial features as the camera gets closer.
- the eq. focal lengths mentioned below are the equivalent focal length in 35mm terms when accounting for the crop factor of the sensor.
Side by side comparison of the best setting in each lens:
NB. remember, Olympus lenses have a 2x crop factor while the Canon ones were tested on a Canon1DMIII with 1.3x crop.
And comparison with different apertures and focal lengths:
And, just for fun, here is what the Olympus 7-14mm lens can do a bit closer - really exaggerate the features:
Here is what you can do with a Canon 1DMIII, 85mm f/1.8 lens at f/2.8, Westcott umbrella softbox and 2 gelled flash guns to turn day into night: